Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
AT THE HEIGHT OF MY CALIFORNIA ACTIVITIES A LETTER CAME that shattered my visions of harmonious love: Max wrote me that he and his comrade "Puck" were about to go abroad together, financed by a friend. I laughed aloud at the folly of my hopes. After the failure with Ed how could I have dreamed of love and understanding with anyone else? Love and happiness --- empty, meaningless words, vain reaching out for the unattainable. I felt robbed by life, defeated in my yearning for a beautiful relationship. I still had my ideal to live for, as I consoled myself, and the work I had set myself to do. Why expect more from life? But where get strength and inspiration to keep up the struggle? Men had been able to do the world's work without the sustaining power of love; why should not also women? Or is it that woman needs love more than man? A stupid, romantic notion, conceived to keep her for ever dependent on the male. Well, I would not have it; I would live and work without love. There is no permanency anywhere in nature or in life. I must drain the moment and then let the goblet fall to the ground. It is the sole protection against taking root, only to be painfully pulled up again. My young friends in San Francisco had been calling. The vision of life with Max had stood in the way. Now I could respond; I must respond in order to forget.
After visiting Portland and Seattle I went to Tacoma, Washington. Everything had been prepared for a meeting there, but when I arrived, I found that the owner of the hall had backed out, and no other place could be secured. At the last moment, when all hopes had been given up, the spiritualists came to the rescue. I delivered several lectures before them, but at the subject of Free Love even they balked. Evidently the spirits continued in heaven the moral standards they had set during their embodiment.
Spring Valley, Illinois, a large mining section, had a strong anarchist group, consisting mostly of Belgians and Italians. They had invited me for a series of lectures, culminating in a demonstration on Labour Day. Their efforts were crowned with great success. Although it was broiling hot, the miners turned out with their wives and children, dressed in their finest. I headed the procession, carrying a large red flag. In the garden hired for the speeches the platform had no awning. I spoke with the hot sun beating down on my head, which had already begun to ache during the long march. In the afternoon, at our picnic, the comrades brought nineteen babies to be baptized by me in "true anarchist fashion," as they said. I got on an empty beer barrel, no other stand being available, and addressed the audience. I felt that the ones who needed baptism were really the parents, baptism in the new ideas of the rights of the child.
The local papers the following day carried two leading stories: one that Emma Goldman "drank like a trooper"; the other that she "had baptized anarchist children in a barrel of beer."
During my previous visit in Detroit with Max I had met one of Robert Reitzel's staunchest friends, Herman Miller, and another devotee of the Armer Teufel, Carl Stone. Miller was president of the Cleveland Brewing Company and a man of considerable means. How he ever came to his position was a puzzle to all who knew him. He was a dreamer and visionary, a lover of freedom and beauty, and a very generous spirit. For years he had been the main support of the Armer Teufel. His finest trait was his art of giving. Even when he tipped a waiter, it was done in a delicate and almost apologetic way. As for his friends, Herman fairly showered gifts on them, in a manner as though they were bestowing a favour on him. On this occasion my host outdid himself in thoughtfulness and generosity. The days spent with him and Stone, in the company of the Ruedebusches, Emma Clausen, and other friends, were a round of good fellowship and comradeship.
Both Miller and Stone showed great interest in my struggle and plans for the future. Asked about the latter, I informed them that I had none, except to work for my ideal. Didn't I wish to secure myself materially, by having some profession, for instance, Herman suggested. I had always wanted to study medicine, I told him, but had never had the means for it. I was completely taken off my feet by Herman's unexpectedly offering to finance my studies. Stone also wanted to share the expense, but the two friends thought it impracticable to turn the entire amount over to me. "I understand you always have a string of people needing help; you will be sure to give the money away," Herman said. They agreed to secure me for five years with an income of forty dollars a month. The same day Herman, accompanied by Julia Ruedebusch, took me to the best store in Detroit, "to help rig Emma out for her trip." A beautiful blue Scotch cloth cape was among the numerous things I cherished from my shopping tour. Carl Stone presented me with a gold watch; it was clam-shaped, and I wondered why he had chosen such a peculiar form. "In token of a gift you have, so rare in your sex: the ability to keep mum," he said. "That is indeed a compliment from a male!" I retorted, to the amusement of the rest.
Before I took leave of my dear friends in Detroit, Herman shyly and unobtrusively put an envelope in my hand. "A love-letter," he said, "to be read on the train." The "love-letter" contained five hundred dollars, with a note: "For your passage, dear Emma, and to keep you from care until we meet in Paris."
The last hope of legal redress for Sasha was gone when the new Board of Pardons refused to hear our appeal. There was nothing left except the desperate venture Sasha had been planning for a considerable time --- an escape. His friends used every means to dissuade him from the idea during the campaign made in his behalf by Carl, Henry, Gordon, and Harry Kelly. With the possibility of release gone, I could do nothing but submit to Sasha's wishes, though with an anxious heart.
His letters, after I informed him that we would go ahead with his scheme, showed him to have undergone a wonderful transformation. He was buoyant again, full of hope and vigour. Soon he would send a friend to us, he wrote, a most trustworthy person, a fellow prisoner whom he called "Tony." The man would be released within a few weeks, and he would then bring us the necessary details of the plan. "It will not fail if my instructions are faithfully carried out," he wrote. He explained that two things would be required: dependable comrades of grit and endurance, and some money. He was sure I would find both.
Before long "Tony" was released, but certain preparatory work in Sasha's behalf kept him in Pittsburgh, and we could not get in personal touch with him. I learned, however, that Sasha's plan involved the digging of a tunnel from the outside into the prison, and that Sasha had entrusted "Tony" with all the necessary diagrams and measurements to enable us to do the work. The scheme seemed fantastic, the desperate design of one driven to stake everything, even his life, upon the throw of a card. Yet I was carried away by the project, so cleverly conceived, and worked out with utmost care. I reflected a long time upon whom to approach in regard to the undertaking. There were plenty of comrades who would be willing to risk their lives to rescue Sasha, but few who had the requisites for such a difficult and hazardous task. I finally decided upon our Norwegian friend Eric B. Morton whom we had nicknamed "Ibsen." He was a veritable viking, in spirit and physique, a man of intelligence, daring, and will-power.
The plan appealed to him at once. Without hesitation he promised to do anything that would be required, and he was ready to start there and then. I explained that there would be an unavoidable delay, we had to wait for "Tony." Something was apparently detaining him much longer than he had expected. I was loath to leave for Europe without being sure that Sasha's plan was being carried out and I confessed to Eric that I felt uneasy about going at all. "It will be maddening to be three thousand miles away while Sasha's fate is hanging in the balance," I said. Eric understood my feelings in the matter, but he thought that as far as the proposed tunnel was concerned, I could do nothing. "In fact, your absence may prove of greater value," he argued, "than your presence in America. It will serve to ward off suspicion that something is being done for Sasha." He agreed with me that the question of Sasha's safety after the escape was of paramount importance. He feared, as I did, that Sasha could not remain very long in the country without being apprehended.
"We'll have to get him away as quickly as possible to Canada or Mexico, and thence to Europe," he suggested. "The tunnel will require months of work, and that will give you time to prepare a place for him abroad. There he will be recognized as a political refugee and as such he will not be extradited."
I knew Eric was a very level-headed man, entirely reliable. Still I hated to go away without seeing "Tony," learning the details of the plan, and finding out all he could tell us about Sasha. Eric quieted my apprehensions by promising to take charge of the entire matter and to begin operations as soon as "Tony" arrived. He was a man of convincing manner and strong personality, and I had the fullest faith in his courage and ability to carry out successfully Sasha's directions. He was, moreover, splendid company, full of cheer, and with a fine sense of humour. At parting he jubilantly assured me that together with Sasha we should soon all meet in Paris to celebrate his escape.
Still "Tony" failed to appear and his absence filled me with misgivings. Involuntarily I thought of the unreliability of prisoners' promises. I remembered the great things several of the women in Blackwell's Island were going to do for me upon their release. They were all soon drawn into the whirlpool of life and personal interests, their best prison intentions slipping away from them. It is rare indeed that a released prisoner is willing and able to carry out the promises made to his fellow sufferers remaining behind the bars. "Tony" was probably like the majority, I thought. Still, I had several weeks yet before sailing --- perhaps "Tony" would turn up in the meantime.
Since leaving New York on my last tour I had not corresponded with Ed, but on my return I had received a letter from him begging me to come to the apartment and occupy it until I left for Europe. He could not endure the idea that I should be with strangers when I had a home of my own. "There is no reason for your not staying here, he wrote; "we are still friends, and the flat, with everything in it is yours." At first I was inclined to refuse; I dreaded a revival of our former relationship and the old struggle. But Ed was so persistent in his letters that I finally returned to the place that had been my home for so many years. Ed was charming, full of tact, considerately noninvasive. Our flat had separate entrances; we came and went our different ways. It was the busy season for Ed's firm, and my time was fully occupied by raising money for Sasha's project and getting ready for my trip abroad. On my occasional free evenings or Saturday afternoons Ed would invite me to dinner or to the theatre, afterwards going to Justus's place. He never once referred to our old life. Instead we discussed my plans for Europe and he seemed greatly interested in them. He was pleased to hear that Herman Miller and Carl Stone were to finance my study of medicine, and he promised to pay me a visit in Europe, as he was planning to go abroad the following year. His mother had been ailing of late; she was growing old and he was anxious to see her as soon as possible.
Justus's place continued to be the most interesting in New York, but its former gaiety was dampened by the alarming condition of its host. I had not been informed, while touring the country, of his illness, and on my return I was appalled to find him wasted and weak. His needs had urged him to go for a rest; Mrs. Schwab and their son could manage the place in his absence. But Justus would not consent. He laughed and joked as usual, but his glorious voice had lost its old ring. It was heart-rending to see our "giant oak" beginning to break.
Funds to carry out Sasha's undertaking had to be raised under cover of a supposed new legal move. Only very few comrades could be told about the real object for which the money was needed. The man who could help most was S. Yanofsky, editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, the Yiddish anarchist weekly. He had only recently come from England, where he had edited the Arbeiter Freund; he was clever and wielded an incisive pen. I knew him as a worshipper of Most which was no doubt the reason for his antagonistic attitude towards me at our first meeting. His sarcastic manner had made a disagreeable impression on me, and I disliked having to approach him. But it was for Sasha's sake, and I went to see him.
To my surprise I found Yanofsky very much interested and willing to help. He expressed doubts about the chances of the plan's success but when I informed him that Sasha was desperate at the thought of continuing eleven more years in his grave, Yanofsky promised to do his utmost to raise the necessary money. With "Ibsen" and several other reliable friends in Pittsburgh to look after the undertaking, and with Yanofsky to assist with the financial end my anxiety was considerably allayed.
Harry Kelly was then in England. I had written him about my coming to Europe and he immediately invited me to stay in the house where he was living with his wife and child. The London comrades Harry wrote, were planning a large eleventh-of-November meeting an would be glad to have me as one of the speakers. At the same time a letter arrived from the anarchists in Glasgow, inviting me for lectures. Besides, there was much to be done for our congress. I had received credentials as a delegate from several groups. Some of the American comrades, among them Lizzie and William Holmes, Abe Isaak, and Susan Patten, asked me to present their papers on various topics. I had a great deal of work before me and it was time to start on my journey. But to my distress there was still no word from "Tony."
One evening I went to Justus's place, where I had promised to meet Ed. I found him in the circle of his philologic cronies, discussing, as usual, the etymology of words. An old literary friend, whom I had not seen for a long time, was there, and while I waited for Ed, I conversed with him. It grew late, but Ed showed no disposition to leave. I told him I was going home, and I left, accompanied by the writer, who lived in the same neighbourhood. At my door I bade him good-bye and immediately went to bed.
I awoke from a ghastly dream that terrified me by lightning and rumbling. But the thunder and crashing of things seemed to continue, and presently I became aware that it was real, happening next door, in Ed's room. He must be crazed by drink, I thought. Yet I had never seen Ed intoxicated to the extent of losing control of himself. What had happened to make Ed so violent as to come home and smash up things in the middle of the night? I wanted to call, to cry out to him, but I was somehow restrained by the continued clatter of objects falling and breaking. After a while it subsided and I heard Ed throw himself heavily on the couch. Then all was quiet.
I kept awake, my eyes burning, my heart beating tumultuously. At daybreak I dressed hastily and opened the door separating my room from Ed's. The sight was appalling: the floor was littered with broken furniture and china; the sketch Fedya had made of me, which Ed had cherished as his greatest treasure, lay torn and trampled upon, its frame smashed. Table and chairs were overturned and broken. In the midst of the confusion lay Ed, half-dressed and fast asleep. In anger and disgust I ran back to my room, slamming the door behind me.
I saw Ed once more, the next day, before I sailed. His haggard look of misery sealed my lips. What was there to say or explain? The debris of our things were the symbol of our wrecked love, of the life that had been so full of colour and promise.
Many friends came to the steamer to say adieu to me and to Mary Isaak, who was sailing with me. Ed was not among them, and I was grateful for it. It would have been even more difficult to control my tears in his presence. It was most painful to say good-bye to Justus, whom we all knew to be dying of tuberculosis. He looked very ill, and I felt saddened by the thought that I might never see him alive again. It was hard also to part from my brother. I was glad to be able to leave him some money, and I would contribute to his needs from the monthly allowance my Detroit friends were to send me. I could manage on less; I had done it in Vienna. The boy had taken deep hold on my heart; he was so tender and considerate that his affection had become something very precious in my life. As the big liner steamed out, I remained on deck to watch the receding silhouettes of New York.
Our crossing was uneventful, except for a raging storm. We arrived in London two days too late for the eleventh-of-November meeting and at the height of the Boer War. In the house where Harry Kelly and his family were living there was only one room vacant, and that was in the basement. Even in clear weather it had but little day light, while on foggy days the gas-jet had to be kept going all the time. The fire-place warmed only one's side or back, never the entire body, and I constantly had to keep changing my position to balance, to some extent, the atmospheric difference between the fire and the cold room.
Having been in London during its best season, in late August and September, I used to think that people exaggerated when they spoke of the horrors of the London fogs, the dampness and greyness of its winter. But I realized this time that they had hardly done justice to the reality. The fog was like a monster, stealthily creeping up and enveloping the victim in its chilly embrace. Mornings I would awaken with a leaden feeling, my mouth parched. In vain the hope of enjoying a ray of light by opening the blinds; the blackness from the outside would soon creep into the room. Poor Mary Isaak, coming from sunny California, was depressed by the London weather even worse than I. She had planned to stay a month, but after one week she was anxious to leave.
To Chapter 21
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